Yikes. I hate it when that happens. An early game, and a little dvr space means getting home early, before 6, and speeding through it and still having the evening ruined by 7pm. So for me it becomes trying to ignore it and put it out of mind and sleep on it and make the aftermath part of the next day. SP covers it, there are all sorts of good comments on the thread, and it's almost time to move on and start getting into tonight's TNT special. Almost. The team certainly has; they did it shortly after the game last night.
But I need to try to consider the moral of last night's story for just one more moment or two.
Wasn't this just typical of the Clippers? So it's not like we're not used to this. As the team has evolved and gotten better, apparently one last thing that they need to shake is losing to teams that they should beat, not having sufficient motivation for lesser opponents, and falling into trap games like this one. It used to happen all the time, or it would go on for sustained stretches, and it was maddening back then. Hard to say what to think about it now. It's weird that it still happens. But it should be said, I suppose, that the Clips are still adjusting to a new coach and a new system and they're still finding themselves. Whatever. It's a poor excuse.
And every loss, especially when you have a good, elite-level team, is excruciating in its own way. Don't remember seeing just this version of depressing defeat before: play like crap and miss shots and lack any sort of defensive intensity in the first half, get it together and get control of the game and a healthy lead with an inspired, relatively epic 3rd quarter run, and then... take the foot of the gas. In a big way too. Or you could call it bringing in the bench. Or you could say calling out a Mulligan--on all that effort. A new and different way to lose. And maybe that's cool, for us longtime Clipper afficionadoes of defeat.
Want to add another all-too-familiar element of this loss, one that goes hand-in-hand with the standard frustrating tumble against a supposedly lesser opponent? Yes, Citizens, we got to watch another installment of "All-Star for a night." The fact that Nikola Vukevic is a solid, rapidly rising, physical player with a nice skill set just shows the range and flexibility of this regular Clipper feature. Sometimes it's an obscure scrub, sometimes it's a guy showing he will have a long but undistinguished career in the league, sometimes it's a breakout for a rising star. Vukevic played well against the Clippers last year, if I recall correctly, but last night he was more than just a handful. He woke up this morning knowing that he is a better and more valuable NBA player than he was at the same time yesterday. He got to show what he can do against a legitimate, widely-publicized opponent, and he got to see it for himself, to feel the flow of it. Last night was a step up for him, and for the team along with him. It was a great effort, and a great win. Thank you, Clippers. We've seen this many times before, in all sorts of different versions.
It just shows that the DPOY stuff about DeAndre Jordan was garbage and empty hype. That's alright because we knew about Doc Rivers' penchant for cheerleading and confidence-building going in, and we never thought that DJ was going to win any awards. He just needs to play well and lead the defense. He didn't have the proper energy going after Vukevic and contesting his shooting, but that little gap of focus was shared by all of the Clippers in the first half. Too bad. Lots of work to do. And we should all try to remember that humiliations are a good thing. They promote growth and focus. The Clippers responded well to the Laker humiliation, and it should be interesting to see how they respond to this unnecessary glitch. Things could go south in the next two games, and we'll all be shaking our heads, wringing our hands and worse, but the Clippers are still a good and talented team.
The pressure point for me is the Redick-Crawford substitution pattern, which is an extremely subtle equation. Jamal Crawford is incredibly valuable and I love having him on the team, but at this point I think we've seen enough to say that he shouldn't be taking too many minutes away from J.J. Redick. Of course Redick isn't going to shoot great every night, and playing Crawford is an obvious alternative when Redick isn't razor sharp. But it's important not to overplay Crawford. Milph keeps talking about Crawford as "an offense unto himself," but that's Vinny ball in my mind; it has its limited uses. The Clippers are a better, crisper team with Redick; the ball moves more, they get better shots, they play better defense. They need a bench, of course, but it doesn't seem to be a necessity to give big minutes to the Crawford show, as awesome and entertaining as it is, especially when the game is on the line in the second half and the first part of the 4th quarter. Barnes needs to get fully healthy, and Collison needs to settle in; he can still take some more time, we're always going to miss Bledsoe, but we're waiting on Collison at this point. Deferring unduly to Crawford's uncanny shot-making is a mistake.
Maybe let's not even talk about the Byron Mullens thing? There's nothing to say, really. It was truly glaring how much of a momentum changer he was last night. It hurts when the shots don't go in, all of them. But the part I hate is that he operates as a shooter first, and a semi-legitimate big man second. It was especially bad on a night when the Clippers were failing to control the paint on both ends. He needs to establish some sort of inside presence, act as a credible defender, and then he can find 3s--the opponent wants him taking them. And he should take them, in the right situations, but he seems to have a knack for taking them at not-so-great times. Yes, it's great when they go in. But what we saw last night was really painful to watch. And DJ ended up playing 44 undistinguished minutes on the night before a big showdown with Miami, in a defeat. Aaargh.
Blake Griffin hitting jump shots is interesting. Hard to say what it means just yet. It's interesting that they aren't really 15 footers, they're more like 18-20+. I remember Karl Malone's deadeye range as essentially 15 feet, with occasional extension; the same was true during FElton's mvp-calibre season. It almost seems as if Griffin is turning into a more versatile jump shooter than the standard big man who knocks down mid-range perimeter shots, but it's hard to establish that deadeye status. Maybe there's no distinction here, and I'm making this up. But it's going to be fun to see what happens.
Okay, done. On to the next. Unfortunately last night's game plays right into the hands of the TNT crew, always happy to feast on Clipper blood. That promises to be extremely annoying, but the Clippers deserve it I guess, and the humiliated squad has all sorts of reasons to be fired up for this big game.
Go Clippers Go!